Historic East New York Building Caught in Rezoning Fight

There’s a hulking brown, brick building facing Atlantic Avenue in East New York. It’s shuttered, and abandoned, but what stands out are a couple of giant murals, three stories high, on the front. They’re made of tiles and each shows a person standing next to a cow. A pond next to them, mountains in the back. This is the Borden Building, also known as the Empire State Dairy Building.
And it’s been an important part of the neighborhood since 1913. It hasn’t been a working milk factory since the 50s, and now, under Mayor de Blasio’s development plans, its future is even less certain.
But those murals. That’s what makes the building special for many in East New York. Brooklyn resident Michael Padwee remembers the first time he put in a landmark request for the building…
Padwee 1
Nineteen ninety-nine I sent a letter to landmarks to LPC. And uh I never heard from them. (0:05)
BERNARD 2: He tried two more times in 2000 when the chair-person of the commission changed and again eight years later … but says he never got an answer. When the owner of the milk building died in 2012, he tried again..
Padwee 2
I was told that I should send in a form requesting an investigation into whether the building should be landmarked so I did that and a year later I still hadn’t heard back from that so I sent another email… [Fade under BERNARD 3] (0:14)
BERNARD 3: If you’re counting that’s a total of six requests to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
BERNARD 4: Then finally he received an email which read.
Padwee 3
We’re considering it we’ll let you know if anything happens.
BERNARD 5: And now it seems, something may be happening. But perhaps not what Padwee was hoping for. The City planning commission recently approved the East New York rezoning plan, making it the first neighborhood to face zoning changes as part of Mayor De Blasio’s affordable housing initiative.
BERNARD 6: And according to the environmental impact statement, the Empire State Dairy Building could be demolished or substantially altered as a result. What does that mean? Basically, until the Landmarks Preservation Commision weighs in, the building isn’t protected.
Olivo 1
As far as the Empire Dairy it was identified as a potentially eligible property for landmark designation in the environmental review for the rezoning.
BERNARD 8: Damaris Olivo is the Director of Communications at LPC. She says potential landmarks are usually identified by the commission through surveys.
Olivo 2
However properties that are suggested by members of the public through request for evaluation may become part of commission surveys. (0:09)
BERNARD 9: It’s a little hard to understand, but basically what she’s saying is that sometimes citizens can nominate buildings for review. And the LPC will consider them. And that’s precisely what’s happened here. So how long should that process take?
Olivo 3
As far as how long it takes it’s really on a case by case basis.
BERNARD 10: And in this case, it’s been 17 years since Padwee’s first request.
BERNARD 11: And he’s not the only one who’s worried by that.
BERNARD 12: Simeon Bankoff is the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, an organization which he says helps people save their neighborhoods.
BERNARD 13: He says the building should be repurposed; not destroyed.
Bankoff 1
I’m not saying that this belongs in the museum like Indiana Jones here I’m saying that these are properties that are character building for the community.
BERNARD 14: Padwee agrees. If the Milk building isn’t landmarked he says those tiles, the ones who make up the mural, those should be preserved.
Padwee 4
I would hope that someone who had an artistic sense and the money would hire somebody to get those off and donate them to a museum. I would love to see them at the Brooklyn museum. (0:17)
BERNARD 15: The East New York rezoning plan now goes to the City Council for a final vote sometime this Spring. Jephie Bernard, Columbia Radio News.

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